After ultrasounds and blood tests doctors discovered a few cysts on her ovaries, she was diagnosed quite quickly with PCOS.
Last year, new International Guidelines were released to help medical professionals and women with PCOS navigate the condition. The guidance included revised diagnostic criteria. Now, the condition is diagnosed with hormone tests instead of ultrasound.
The new guidance also encouraged doctors to consider factors beyond reproductive health such as weight, diabetes, heart disease and mental health.
What are the treatments for PCOS?
Following diagnosis, doctors will usually recommend trying to lose weight as one form of treatment. Obesity and weight gain are strongly linked to PCOS, and studies have shown that losing just a small amount of weight can help to rebalance your hormones.
“If a woman is overweight then as little as 5% weight loss can regulate periods, lead to more regular ovulation, improve excess hair growth and lower insulin levels,” Dr Rebecca Poet, founder of The Women’s Hormone Clinic says. “Regular exercise and a focus on diet and nutrition will help to achieve and maintain weight loss.”
The second recommendation is the oral contraceptive pill, as it regulates your cycle and is an effective treatment for a number of the other symptoms people with PCOS can experience.
Dr Poet says that this is only a good option for those with PCOS who are not looking to get pregnant, of course. “The hormones in birth control pills may help regulate menstrual bleeding and control heavy periods,” she says. “The pills also may help reduce excessive hair growth and acne.”
Third is a drug called metformin, which increases your body’s sensitivity to insulin levels. “This leads to insulin levels falling to normal levels and helps with hormonal balance and aids weight loss which in turn leads to more regular periods, ovulation, and improving excess hair growth,” Dr Poet says.
The updated guidance has addressed It also addresses the need for new approaches to care, acknowledging that more personalised treatments and therapies are needed.
How should people with PCOS deal with their fertility?
“Having PCOS is the most common cause of female infertility, however it is important to note that not all women with PCOS will have trouble conceiving,” Dr Poet says. “If things are difficult then there are several treatment options available and through these, the majority of women are able to get pregnant. Adopting a health lifestyle will give you the best chance of getting pregnant naturally as is true for all women, not just those with PCOS.”
What it’s really like to have PCOS
Above all, Jess found the weight loss suggestion unhelpful in combatting her own experiences of PCOS.
“While losing weight may work for some, my BMI at the time was perfectly healthy and to lose the amount of weight recommended by my doctor would have put me in the ‘underweight’ category,” she says.
There were further complications when it came to dealing with her own fertility: “I had also decided to come off of the pill because I personally didn’t want to be putting the chemicals in my body when I no longer needed it for contraception. In my eyes, taking the pill again would be like putting a plaster on the problem and not getting to the root of it. I left the doctor’s surgery feeling emotional, lost and confused by my own body.”
“It took lots more terrible appointments where I was told, ‘If you want to have a baby you should start trying sooner rather than later’, and nearly four years of missed periods, to convince me that I needed to try other methods.